Hooray For Us

So Canada’s been really excited, eh? We’ve got a new, dreamy prime minister and some shockingly awesome policies to match. One of the things we’ve been most excited about is that Canada has welcomed its first Syrian refugees.

Yay, welcoming refugees! We’ve got Prime Minister Trudeau greating refugees with a great speech:

We’ve got a welcome banner on the front-cover of the Toronto Star:

Heck, we’ve even got school kids writing letters to newly arrived refugees!

Even my own home province of New Brunswick – a province not typically known for its progressive politics – is excited to welcome refugees:

Canada’s recent election was heavily influenced by party leaders’ stances on Syrian refugees. Trudeau’s stance on accepting refugees played a role in his success at the polls.

How cool is that? Canada was tired of Harper being a dick, so as soon as we could, we elected a charming PM who promised to make Canada a better global citizen. Yay democracy!

From my perspective (admittedly, in my New York apartment), Canada seems pretty excited to start acting like decent, civilized people again. And good for us.

However…

I think it’s important to acknowledge that, to some degree, these refugees are being used.

Used? What does that mean? Well it means that other people are taking advantage of the situation for their own ends.

This isn’t new, and it certainly shouldn’t be news. Think about it: Trudeau has used their circumstances to gain political favour, news outlets have used photos and videos of refugees to make content, and as a country, Canada is using them (I believe) to soothe our collective guilt about ever having elected Harper.

Don’t get me wrong – I really am ecstatic that Canada is welcoming refugees. And our society says that it’s acceptable that Trudeau et al are using refugees to their advantage. Politicians use stunts like this all the time – instead of kissing babies, Trudeau is helping refugees’ children into their new winter coats.

There is a definite line between refugees being used and refugees being exploited. The question is, then, where is that line?

I worry.

I worry that if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves treating these people’s upended lives as spectacle.


It’s important to remember that, like other western nations, Canada has benefited from the events that led to refugees fleeing their homes. Accepting refugees is not something to get excited about; it is a woeful obligation. It is something carried out by countries as a consequence of their failure to end global conflict and inequality.

There is a bigger picture here. Yes, of course we have a humanitarian duty to accept refugees, but we also have a duty to build a future where people don’t have to flee conflicts in their home countries.

I am super-excited that we’re accepting refugees. “Canada’s Back!” But I don’t want us to loose sight of the global perspective: as a nation – hell, as a species – we need to work way harder towards a future where there are no more refugees.

Overemphasizing our positive actions is a problem; focusing solely on welcoming refugees draws our attention away from the situations that lead them here.


Posted on December 20, 2015